A few months ago I stumbled on a blog post about modern film poster design from graphic designer Alex Griendling, in which he went through the process from conception to the different aspects of designing a film poster that you should definitely check out. He spoke about how graphic designers are magnificently talented artists that produce phenomenal work that doesn’t get past the initial concept phase, and linked to a website filled with images of film posters that were used to market American and other western territory films in Poland.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are tons of wonderful, iconic film posters from the west that helped market some of the greatest films ever made: look up Drew Struzan’s poster work from The Thing to Indiana Jones. Aside from Struzan, I’m particularly fond of the Escape From New York and Straw Dogs posters, both for their style and their thematic complexity.
However, the work done by polish graphic designers perfectly demonstrates how staid film poster design has become in western film marketing, because the inventive and striking designs as scene on this site are unbelievable to behold (albeit low resolution, nothing an image search can’t fix). They aren’t just photography taken from the set, or actors posing and then layered together in Photoshop. There’s a deliberate attempt to involve a variety of graphical designs, playing around and experimenting with a look and tone that complements the film.
Some designs aren’t so noticeably different to poster designs in the west, such as this Bullit Poster below.
The crude drawing style for the MASH poster gets its point across and is possible the only poster on this list that I would consider funny.
But then we get into some abstract territory with posters incorporating pop-art, photography, cut out, if not full blown painted works that belong in galleries such as these.
Out of all the bunch, the Terminator poster seems to be the one that most resembles its western counterpart!
What I love the most about these posters is how direct they are at delivering simple semiotic messages to the observer. How they implement these styles to display composed thematic symbolism that says everything about the film in the simplest way, look to the Eyes Wide Shut poster for god’s sake! Or the Metropolis “eye of the beholder” design.
They are also some of the most horrifying designs I’ve seen on a film poster.
Terrifying! Although I felt they got the tone wrong for Raiders of the Lost Ark here.
I love it, and I know exactly the scene this poster references from the film and it is a scary scene. But I think the western poster with its grandiose painted style matches the film better.
By far my favourite poster is the one for Apocalypse Now.
It’s so intimidating, so direct, and so simple. Clearly Marlon Brando is the star here, but it isn’t a stupid headshot with some rubbish background elements or intrusive title fonts. Just like in the film Marlon Brando’s character William E. Kurtz considers himself this celestial egoistic figure as he leads a troop of men deep in the jungles of Vietnam. All those jagged scribbles that resemble the rush of gunfire blur and yet define his mad character and the journey he took that shaped him this way. This poster pulls the film down to its singular, primitive property; Hell.
It’s worth pointing out that these are old posters for older films. So it’s possible I’m wrong in thinking that poster design in modern film marketing has gone downhill and these styles are too far outdated to be relevant or stylish. I’m also sorry if this has been a very gushy post where I just blabbed on about a geeky love for film posters. But I see so much potential being wasted whenever I see a poster which is made up entirely of headshots of the actors, as if to say an actor’s appearance should be enough for you! It’s not, it’s meaningless, I want to know what’s in store for me, and a film poster should hint at that with an artistic flair, and a confidence in the film’s story.